Gautama Buddha (621 – 543 B.C.E.)
A great sage from India and the founder of Buddhism
Place and date of birth, Family, Legends. Place of birth: north of India, Himalayan principality of Nepal, with capital of Kapilavastu.
Date of birth: a mortuary urn was found with ashes of Buddha and the dates on it were 621 – 543 B.C.E; according to this Buddha lived 78 years.
Oral traditions say that he lived for 100 years and was teaching for 78 years. Gautama was born in the first days of May during a full moon phase. His parents were from the royal Shakya lineage; his father was Śuddhodana and his mother was Maya. The full name of the prince was Gotama (victorious) Shakyamuni (Shakya- lineage name, muni – mighty in benevolence, solitude and voicelessness), Prince Kapilavastu Siddhārtha (he who brought to pass his foreordination).
Buddha is a title, not a name. It means state of consciousness of he who beheld the Truth and made himself master of the highest Wisdom. “Buddha in its exact translation means enlightened.
The name Siddhārtha, Gautama (or Gotama) Buddha, like the other Great Wisemen, is surrounded in legends. One of the legends narrates that Buddha chose Maya, the purest of women, as his mother and entered her body as a marvelous white elephant. In Indian legends the image of a white elephant is a symbol of the birth of the divine Avatar Vishnu (Avatar in Divine Manifestation). Another legend tells that a great Rishi Atisha, a hermit who had been living in the Himalayas, came to greet a newborn Bodhisattva (the Son of Heaven’s Buddha). Based on traditions of that time, on the fifth day after the birth of the Bodhisattva, 108 wise men got together in a king’s palace to give the prince a name and predict his fortune. The most educated of them predicted that the prince will cloister himself from the world, and when he sees four signs – an old man, an ill person, a dead person, and a hermit – then he will become a Buddha after some time.
Prince Siddhārtha was brought up as Crown Prince. He was accustomed to all of the enjoyments that beauty, health, power, and wealth provide. When he reached a husband’s age, he married a beautiful girl. He was totally protected from any misfortunes and suffering. Four predicted encounters of people’s sufferings were presented to him, and this made him change his life. He felt an irresistible desire to find a reason for peoples’ suffering, and he decided to leave the palace, his parents, a beloved wife, and a newborn child.
Main life milestones. Around the age of 24 (or based on another date he could have been 29 years old), the Prince left his palace and went to wander around the world. He was going to seek the purest life, deep thinking, and colossal exertion of his mind. At that time, many people in India were concerned about spiritual pursuits. Hundreds of people, young and old, left their homes for spiritual enlightenment and became hermits in search of wise men who would help them to accept a true life. Among the hermits the Prince found experienced mentors. They familiarized him with philosophical teachings, with methods of contemplation, and with managing his body, but in none of them he found the highest truth that frees people from suffering. For a few years he had been living like ascetics, wandering around the woods, going from one village to another, and living on handouts. Those were years of harsh asceticism and abstinence. He put himself to the hardest tests to achieve enlightenment and find The Highest Truth. He did not protect himself from the flaming sun, from rain, or from insects. Experience taught him that asceticism has no value, and Gautama defined it as a false way, which caused animosity from other ascetics.
According to one tale, Buddha, like other great men of faith, was exposed to horrible temptations. A duke of demons, a spirit of evil, Mara, was trying to destroy all of his efforts. Legions of envious masterminds were whispering the words of hesitance to Siddhārtha. Horrible monsters were surrounding the ascetic. Charming crowds of Apsars, daughters of Mara, were trying to enslave Gautama with voluptuous movements and promises. The head of demons himself promised to Buddha all kingdoms of the world and their fame if he stopped his search for wisdom.
When Shakyamuni achieved the highest wisdom, he achieved enlightenment. In Bodh Gaya, under a holy tree on a bank of the river, near a place called Uruvela, Gautama Buddha attained the Highest Enlightenment, that which he had been seeking for so long. At 29 years old he obtained the masterly Knowledge and The True Wisdom, and he became Buddha. His thought became clear, and he achieved his ultimate goal, an answer to the question that he had been seeking.
In Buddhistic tales it is also said that the Teacher was going across the borders of India, to places such as Tibet, Hotan, and Altay. Ancient tales describe a great sacred journey of Buddha on the roads of Asia, and about his visit to The White Mountain (Beluha) in Altay. There are data in sacred books that describe his journey before he reached Benares; Buddha was apprehending the secrets of wisdom in a Himalayan Dwelling.
In a park not far from Benares, Buddha gave his famous speech about the first principles of his teaching. Soon, a community formed around him and it grew rapidly. Everyone was accepted in the community, without consideration of caste, gender, or wealth. Entrance and exit were based on free will. A comer just expressed a willingness to serve the teaching of Buddha. If someone left and then came back, he was asked just one question: “You don’t deny the teaching, do you?” Eliminating a denial, the teaching did not enslave anyone. There were not many rules; they were directed to protect the freedom of the disciples. Buddha aspired to a happy life in the community. The teaching began from a clean heart and consciousness, free from superstitions and vile qualities. Moral purity and recession from property was required from disciples. “A sense of ownership is measured not with physical things, but with thoughts. You can have things and not to be possessive.” Buddha advised to have fewer things, and to not spend much time with them.
Families were coming to join the community. An indispensable condition was to have one wife and be loyal to her. Buddha tried to avoid interdiction. There was no ban against those who wanted to eat meat. There was prohibition for consuming alcohol.
Buddha commanded his followers to stay away from everything negative and encourage everything beautiful. “I am teaching you to do such things that are righteous in actions, words and thoughts; I teach an exertion of all the states of souls, which are righteous and don’t bring evil.” His goal was the growth and development of the souls of his disciples. Buddha aspired to make the disciples friends, and to create the best conditions for them to reach the highest knowledge. When a disciple conquers his feelings and withdraws from everything personal, then the Teacher gave him a test and permitted him to understand the depths of knowledge. Buddha aspired to compel his followers to work for a public well-being, create a new consciousness, and act as messengers of the community. He sent them into life as teachers and founders of new communities.
Over 45 years, Buddha was teaching and building the communities in valley of the Ganga, not far from Benares. A legend tells about Gautama visiting his hometown, about meeting with his father, his wife, and about the conversion of his brother and son to the new Тeaching; it also tells about the conversion of kings and ordinary people, rich and poor.
At the age of 80, Buddha reached Nirvana, and that is why he was perceived as a dead person for the living. In reality, Buddha lived to be 100 years old. He finished his teaching in Kushinagar. The relics of Buddha were burned.
Inner Image of Buddha. «There never was a great religious reform that was not pure at the beginning. The first followers of Buddha, as well as the disciples of Jesus, were all men of the highest morality.» (Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 2, page 343.)
«The French journalist and scholar, Jules Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, remarked: “I do not hesitate to say that, except Christ alone, there is not among the founders of religions, a figure either more pure or more touching than that of Buddha. His life is spotless. His constant heroism equals his convictions. . . . He is the perfect model of all the virtues he preaches; his abnegation, his charity, his unalterable sweetness of disposition, do not fail him for one instant…and when he dies in the arms of his disciples, it is with the serenity of a sage who practiced virtue all his life» (Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 2, page 343.)
Teaching. The main idea of Buddhism is that everything in Space aspires to continuous renovation. There is no unchangeable soul; it continuously changes. Everything in Space is under the control of the Law of Causality; neither people nor Deities are exceptions to this universal law. A creature that causes an effect has to take responsibility for it in either this or in a new incarnation, that they will get according to their karma: good or evil thoughts and actions. “I don’t teach anything but The Law of Karma.” Buddha was teaching that there is no independent “I” separated from life. Because there is no separate “I,” it is impossible to say that something belongs to me. Realization of the law of unity in Space makes the meaning of possession unimportant. Gautama Buddha gave The Life Teaching to the world, which was destined to teach people to use The Great Veritas of everyday life. He was teaching the ethics of life.
Buddha affirmed that the source of suffering and all ills in the life of humanity are darkness of consciousness, desires, and concupiscence. Ignorance is the biggest evil and crime. He discovered that the way of getting freedom from suffering is enlightenment of consciousness and gradual self-improvement. When he discovered the way to this Truth, Buddha described eight steps on the Path: right recognition and understanding based on knowledge of the Law of Causality; right mental thought; right speech; right action; proper livelihood; full effort; thorough awareness; self-discipline and concentration. The Noble Eightfold Path is the path of harmonization of feelings and reaching the perfections of Arhat: compassion and generosity; ethics and morality; patience; courage; concentration; and wisdom.
On the way of self-knowledge ten perils or fetters lie in wait for a person: illusion of personality, hesitance, superstitions, corporal desires, hatred, attachment to the Earth, desire of pleasure and appeasement, pride, complacency, and ignorance. Just by tearing away all of these fetters, it is possible to reach the highest knowledge and absolution – Nirvana. It is not enough just to accept the knowledge. It is necessary to practice this knowledge in life. Everything is reached just with personal efforts, human hands and feet. “Immortality can be reached only by constant well-doings; and perfection is reached through compassion and acts of mercies».
To do good and cognize with the purpose of gaining immortality has nothing in common with the Noble Path. Nirvana is a state of forgetting oneself. «A life path needs to work its way up without thought or any awards or achievements; this life is the greatest.» A foundation of The Noble Path is moral purity. Achieving the highest goal – Nirvana – is possible by following the path of virtue.
Buddha was teaching to cognize the Laws of Nature and your own soul, without getting yourself shackled, to see the reasons for suffering and to correct them with wholesome action, to grip the Truth by yourself, to honor your faith and not to decry another, not to argue, but share knowledge with others. He was teaching the fearlessness of thoughts and actions. «A thought is higher than anything.» «Everything is done with thought.» Thoughts and actions do good, and they do evil. Buddha was teaching that we are comprised of opposites.
Buddha was teaching that the knowledge needs to be explained in popular language, using comparisons, famous stories, and folk tales. His speech was convincing and powerful because of its simplicity and clarity.
The Teaching of Buddha doesn’t contain any violence. “He leads others, without using violence.” “The one is called noble if he does not do any violence against any living creature.”
Buddha rejects personal worship. “The Teaching saves not because Buddha gives it, but because the Teaching is liberation.” The main principle of the Teaching is “Look for the truth by yourself.” Don’t believe just because others believe. Explore. That’s why questions were encouraged, and there was free discussion of what was taught. The Truth is freedom.
Buddha directed his students to the future, and he gave the commandment to honor him less than a Teacher that will come in future. History doesn’t know another example of such a self-abnegation. “I am not the first Buddha who came into this world, and I am not the last one. In the right time another Buddha will come, hidden, of the highest enlightenment, gifted with wisdom, a happy one; containing all the Universe, an incomparable Leader of nations…He will proclaim a saintly life, perfect and pure, like the one that I preach now… His name will be Maitreya.”
Religious tracts of Buddhism (“Pratimoksha Sutra,” etc.) contain the following commandments:
1. Thou shalt not kill any living creature.
2. Thou shalt not steal.
3. Thou shalt not break thy vow of chastity.
4. Thou shalt not lie.
5. Thou shalt not betray the secrets of others.
6. Thou shalt not wish for the death of thy enemies.
7. Thou shalt not desire the wealth of others.
8. Thou shalt not pronounce injurious and foul words.
9. Thou shalt not indulge in luxury (sleep on soft beds or be lazy).
10. Thou shalt not accept gold or silver
(Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 2, page 164.):
Mission. Mission The Great Teacher synthesized the Testaments of all Teachers of General Good who came before him. He opened “Vedas” to people again. He indicated that the purpose of Evolution is a creative cooperation with Space and Faraway Worlds. Buddha is the first commoner of the Fifth Race. He was the first scientific commoner. He set the idea of The World Community as a worldwide cooperation of nations; nothing exists beyond cooperation and mutual help. He first started to talk about the equality of men, and spoke out against castes. He was the first in the history of religions to turn outreaches into practical deeds.
The vitality of His Teaching is confirmed by convincing facts. Buddhism did not disgrace itself by embarking on the faith with fire or sword, and for 27 centuries it was less corrupted than other religions.
«Near the mysterious Uruvela, Buddha approaches the simplest expression of his attainments. And on the shores of the Niranjana River, he was illumined by the decision to pronounce the words concerning community, renunciation of the personal, the significance of labor for the general well-being, and of the meaning of knowledge. To establish a scientific approach to religion was a true attainment. To expose the self-interested priests and Brahmins was the summit of fearlessness. To reveal the true levers of hidden human forces was difficult beyond expression. For the Prince to become a powerful almsman was incredibly beautiful. In the conception of the evolution of humanity, the figure of the commoner, Buddha, takes an unquestionably beautiful place.
«The Great Individuality of Buddha, His Fiery Ego clothed by Materia Lucida (the thinnest but not transparent luminous matter), is now in the spheres close to our planet. In view of the threatening period of Armageddon, a number of the Fiery Dwellers are in the spheres not far from our Earth. The approach of the fiery energies makes their presence possible. You can well understand how threatening our time is and what Forces participate in the salvation of our planet» (Letters of Helena Roerich, Volume 1, page 315.)